Here's some "tongue in cheek" Grammar Advice and Dangling Modifiers


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The first thing you need to know about Writing is the general process.  Here it is:


Write - revise - write - revise - write - revise - write - revise - write - proof-read - edit


Know the difference between revision and proof-reading Revision refers to content.  Proof-reading refers to rules (punctuation, spelling, etc.)

Revision considers the paper as a whole and how it fits together.  Proof-reading considers one sentence at a time.


How to:  WRITE

Just start.  Type as fast as you can without regard to sentence structure or punctuation.  Get the ideas going.  You can edit later.  Ideas will emerge if you just keep writing.

How to:  REVISE

Read what you've written as if you didn't write it.  Does it make sense?  Read it aloud.  Are the arguments sound?  Does the paper flow from one point to another smoothly?  Are your statements properly supported?  Consider the paper (or section) as a whole and how it fits together.  If changes are necessary, rearrange paragraphs, add explanations or illustrations, take out unclear language.  Have someone else read what you've written (someone whose judgment you trust and who will offer constructive criticism) and point out areas that are confusing or unclear.  Remember, revision means re-thinking!


Make sure spell-check and grammar-check are turned on.  Address every green line and red line indicated.  Read each sentence aloud (very important).  If you stumble over a sentence or if something sounds weird, find out why and fix it.  Did you leave out a word (happens all the time!) or use a word incorrectly?  Keep an eye out for words that are used incorrectly.  Spell-check will not flag the difference between its and it's or among their, there, and they're.  Know your habits.  Do you often use than when you mean then?  Let someone else read it.  A pair of fresh eyes will often catch something you missed.  Ask them to tell you if/where they get lost, if a section is boring or awkward, as well as where you missed a comma or misspelled a word.

How to:  EDIT

Meticulously fix all of these details.  Use a dictionary.  Use a thesaurus.  Use your APA manual to bring into subjection every stray period and comma.  Remember:  details matter.


True Story


I once had an undergraduate student who was working on a research study.  The first few times I met with him, we would go over what he had written, and I would show him things that needed to be corrected/revised/rewritten, etc.  He was becoming very frustrated and we finally had to stop and deal with his angst.  This was a very enlightening conversation for me.  As he vented, I realized that up to this point, every writing assignment he had ever done in his past coursework had consisted of writing something, turning it in, getting a grade, and going on to something else.  He had never had to revise anything.  He thought I was being punitive by requiring so many changes and by being so picky about sentence structure, commas, leaving out his opinions in certain sections, etc.  I think I startled him by laughing (as the light bulb went on over my head).  I explained to him that a research project is never "right" until you are done.  There will be revisions identified every time we meet, and that this is the "normal" process and not a personal affront.  At the end of our talk, he was visibly relieved.  I hope that you, like my undergraduate student, will continue your practice of revision and editing, never assuming that what you write is "good enough," and always improving.  Remember that your written communication is your statement of content, but also your statement of credibility.




Writing Hints



First of all, set your Word document defaults!!  My Word!


In your Word document:




Writing Style (halfway down or so)


Set Writing Style to "Grammar & Style"

Then under "Grammar,"  check every single box!


If your version of Word is different, Google how to set your preferences.

Now that you have Spell-check and Grammar-check enabled, be sure to right click on EVERY green line and make the necessary changes in grammar and on EVERY red line and make the necessary changes in spelling.


Note:  This does not eliminate the need for proof-reading.  For example, spell-check identifies only those words that are misspelled, not those that are used incorrectly, such as 'their' and 'there.'  Both words are spelled correctly, but in context, only one can be correct.

English is weird.  It can be understood through tough, thorough, thought though.


Word choice

We tend to have favorite words.  Used repeatedly, sentences become choppy or boring.  Use the thesaurus feature in Word.  Right-click on any word and choose "Synonym" from the drop-down menu.  Also beware of beginning multiple sentences in the same way, such as "Then he . . ." or "[The author] said . . ."  Speaking of "the author," try to avoid referring to yourself as "This author . . ." to avoid using "I" and "me," etc.  Reconstruct your sentence to use direct statements.


Note:  Formal papers should be written in third person; that is, avoid using I, we, my, mine, you, your, us, etc.  This is a more objective writing style.  The only exception to this is to avoid using "This author. . ." (see above) and when you give your own analysis in a conclusion.


Avoid unnecessary words/phrases, such as "In other words . . ." (yes, these are other words); "Furthermore . . ." (I guess so, when you continue to write); "All things considered . . ." (no, I only intend to consider one thing). As you can see, these words/phrases are not necessary and can even be a bit silly when you think about it ;-)






Scholarly Writing

Scholarly writing is different than other types of writing.



It doesn't have to be pompous (Ex: Have we to conclude we may communicate with whomever we please?)

It shouldn't be informal (Ex: So, we can just talk to whoever the hell we wanna talk to?)

Examples above from Geoffrey Pullum



Bresler, L. (1995). Ethnography, phenomenology and action research in music education. Quarterly Journal of Music Teaching and Learning, 6(3).


The article referenced above is a good example of clear and concise writing.  The author refrains from flowery language, overly long sentences, and unsupported opinions.  Take the time to find and read this example.



Speaking of unsupported opinions, David Coleman (lead architect of the Common Core Standards) spoke about the ubiquitous use in the teaching of writing in English classrooms of "personal writing . . . the exposition of a personal opinion . . . the presentation of a personal matter."

The only problem, forgive me for saying this so bluntly, the only problem with those two forms of writing is as you grow up in this world you realize people really don’t give a sh– about what you feel or what you think. What they instead care about is can you make an argument with evidence, is there something verifiable behind what you’re saying or what you think or feel that you can demonstrate to me. It is rare in a working environment that someone says, “Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.” That is rare. It is equally rare in college by the way.

So, in your pursuit of scholarly writing, keep that in mind!

When you feel free to pepper your content with your personal bias or opinion, you lose credibility with your reader (and you lose points on your paper). 

Be objective in the content of the body of your paper.

If you need to draw your own conclusions, those go in the Discussion or Conclusion section at the end and should be made clear to your reader that these are your own opinions.


Personal Anecdote

In writing my dissertation years ago, here is a direct quote from one of my advisors chastising me for this very issue!

Remove all editorializing from the document.  You cannot make assumptions such as you do on page 53.  You cannot "assume" that it is logical etc.  It is your job simply to report the findings.  Only in Chapter 5 can you say such things.  Remove all such editorializing, speculation, and other commentary before sending it back to me.

Ouch!!  See?  We all have to learn this lesson!


Avoid casual writing, such as using first person, first person plural ("us," "we"), contractions, expressions ("slow as Christmas"), unsupported opinions, biased statements, rhetorical questions.

 Here is a great link for many of the informalities that should be avoided in formal writing.


Do not anthropomorphize (giving human characteristics to inanimate objects).  Example:  "This article shows . . ."

Anthropomorphism means that the writer attributes action to objects that cannot take that action. This is SO common and students lose many points on their papers this way.


Use quotations and italics properly when referring to titles  Use this chart.


Use explicit language.  Be clear.  Avoid general terms, such as "good," "bad," and "ugly."  State specifically what you mean so the reader does not need to interpret.





Final Draft Checklist



Did you . . .

____  include references?

____  read the paper aloud to hear any mistakes? Don't skip this one even if you have read it silently 100 times.

____  run spell check and grammar check?

____  avoid contractions and abbreviations?

____  avoid anthropomorphism: (“This article tells us little.”)?  The article cannot tell anything.

____  put periods and commas inside quotation marks?

____  use italics for complete works and quotation marks for parts of works or short works?

____  use italics for foreign expressions not in standard use?

____  fix hanging “this” by adding a noun (this what)?

____  format long quotations (40 words or more) as block quotes?

____  insert page numbers?

____  follow all style requirements? (APA)

____  keep I (first person pronouns) to a minimum?

____  avoid us, we, (first person plurals) and you (2nd person pronouns)?





"Where I Spend Most of My Red Ink"


Use Wikipedia as a starting point for general information.  There is often a good bibliography included at the end of the Wikipedia article.  However, DO NOT cite Wikipedia as a reliable source because ANYONE can write ANYTHING in the Wikipedia format and you cannot count on its reliability.


General APA formatting.  Use a title on the first page of text, period goes after the citation, not all words in a title are capitalized in the reference section, right-justifying the page numbers, correct running head


Too many direct quotes.  Don't fill your paper with quotations, providing your content by using others' words.  Read everything, synthesize, paraphrase.  


You should quote from a source only:

  • to show that an authority supports your point
  • to present a position or argument to critique or comment on; that is, you are going to analyze the statement itself
  • to include especially moving or historically significant language or when the wording is particularly unique
  • to present a particularly well-stated passage whose meaning would be lost or changed if paraphrased or summarized
  • when the person who said it is the one you are studying

You should summarize or paraphrase when

  • what you want from the source is the idea expressed, and not the specific language used to express it
  • you can express in fewer words what the key point of a source is

Inconsistent use of verb tense - don't mix past tense with present tense, etc.  Pick one and stick to it.


Incorrect use of verb tense; for example, when verb tense agrees with a noun in a prepositional phrase, but not with the subject of the sentence

Example:  Neither of the two compositions is a symphony. ('compositions' is part of a prepositional phrase)

Here are some more examples: http://owl.english.purdue.edu/owl/resource/599/01/

Faulty parallelism:  each idea in a series must match  Ex:  "The horses need to be groomed, watered, fed, and clean their stalls."  Revised:  The horses need to be groomed, watered, fed, and their stalls need to be cleaned."


Unclear pronoun reference:  be clear to what or to whom you are referring when using pronouns Example:  Because Senator Martin is less interested in the environment than in economic development, he sometimes neglects it. (What exactly is he neglecting??)


Contractions - don't use them in a formal paper ;-) 


Commas - use them!!! (another reason to check those green lines!), including the Oxford comma.  Here is a guide to commas and other punctuation marks:



Semicolons - only use them in 3 ways : 1) as a "soft period" connecting 2 closely related independent clauses, 2) in a list to separate items that contain commas within the items, and 3) with a transitional phrase (Ex: . . . ; however, . . .)



Who vs. whom - if you can replace it with "he" or "she," then it should be "who"; "him" or "her" substitutes for "whom"


"Should" and "must" - If it is your opinion, back it up.  If it is someone else's idea, cite it.  Even if it is your opinion, those statements belong in the conclusion of your paper or in the Discussion section.


Personification/anthropomorphism - avoid action verbs with inanimate objects: “This article tells us little.”  That article did not TELL you anything!


"Some say" or "It is said" phrases - who says??  In a formal paper, do not make such vague statements.

Avoid jargon  Here is an example of too much jargon:

“After consulting the research and assessment data, and involving all stakeholders in the decision-making process, we have determined that a relentless pursuit of excellence and laser-like focus on the standards, synergistically with our accountability measures, action-oriented and forward-leaning intervention strategies, and enhanced observation guidelines for classroom look-fors, will close the achievement gap and raise the bar for all children.”


Homonyms (more specifically, 'homophones' - sound the same, spelled differently)  Here are the most common errors:






Who Cares About Those Picky Details?





"The Orff method is founded on four principals."

A "principal" is an administrator at a school.  The correct spelling should have been "principle."  Now read that sentence from the point of view of a person judging your level of education and knowing what a "principal" is.  Oops!










Commas.  Use them.


Although not all commas make such a crucial difference in meaning, here is an illustration of the necessity of the humble comma.  The following sentence is interpreted by means of punctuation in two very different ways.


Woman without her man is nothing




1.  Woman; without her, man is nothing.


2.  Woman, without her man, is nothing.



Then there's this one

Come on, people - punctuation saves lives!!







"Let's eat Grandma!"

"Let's eat, Grandma!"

Punctuation also saves relationships!

"I'm sorry I love you."

"I'm sorry; I love you."



Misplaced modifiers


Need a good chuckle?  Check this link:

How to Write Good

"Witnesses described the thief as a six-foot-tall man with a mustache weighing 190 pounds."

Wow - that's a heavy mustache!



In a conversation, one man said to another, "I know a man with a wooden leg named Smith."  His friend then asked, "So, what's the name of the other leg?"



Unclear pronoun reference It does make a difference what "it" is!


Details matter.  Your credibility is at stake here.


What if I had written this?:


Your credibility is at steak here.



You could rightly have wondered whether


1. I am fit to be your teacher

2. I am a careless writer

3. my mind is on dinner


In any case, you were distracted from my message.






How Your Writing Will Be Graded


Here is the rubric that will be used to grade most writing assignments.

Use it to evaluate your assignments before turning them in.

Note:  In the case where several characteristics are listed under the Performance Indicators, any one of them (not all) may indicate that category.



Performance Indicators








Paper fails to meet content requirements.

Arguments are unsupported. Exploration of the topic is superficial or contains numerous inaccuracies. Movement between ideas is abrupt or illogical. Introduction and/or conclusion are missing or incomplete.

Paper shows some knowledge of standard works in the field, but incorporates too much unsupported opinion. Paper may include some inaccuracies. Ideas are somewhat difficult to follow. Introduction and/or conclusion are truncated or unclear. Paper shows familiarity with standard works and terms in the field. Readers may be left feeling that some aspects of the subject have not been explored. Paper reviews what others have written about the topic. Ideas are arranged logically. Introduction and conclusion are clear. Paper shows extensive knowledge of standard works and terms in the field. Readers' questions and objections are anticipated and answered. Writer provides new information, clarity, or a unique perspective to scholarly discussion of topic. The paper is organized, logical, and supported. An inviting introduction and a noteworthy conclusion are present.

0 points

21 points

24 points

27 points

30 points

Writing Form


Unacceptable deviation from standard use of grammar, tense agreement, or other sentence structure elements, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, abbreviation, and numbers.

Multiple errors in grammar, tense agreement, or other sentence structure elements, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, abbreviation, and numbers.

Several errors in grammar, tense agreement, or other sentence structure elements, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, abbreviation, and numbers.

Minimal errors in grammar, tense agreement, or other sentence structure elements, spelling, punctuation, capitalization, abbreviation, and numbers.

Writing is grammatical. Words selected create sentences that are clear, varied, complete, and uncluttered. Tenses agree, as do subject-verb, and pronoun-reference. Words are spelled correctly; rules of punctuation, capitalization, abbreviation, and numbers are observed.

0 points

21 points

24 points

27 points

30 points



Unacceptable deviation from formal language and word usage.

Significant deviation from formal language and word usage.

Some deviation from formal language and word usage.

Minor deviation from formal language and word usage.

Writing is directed toward an academic audience and is free from clichés, jargon, inappropriate colloquialisms. Diction is formal, avoiding I and we, slang, and contractions.

0 points

7 points

8 points

9 points

10 points

 Use of Sources


Material from other authors appears to have been directly cut-and-pasted into text.

Direct quotes often used unnecessarily and/or sentence sections copied and/or failure to cite sources.

Direct quotes sometimes used unnecessarily or sources sometimes inadequately cited.

Material from other authors is credited and used as supporting evidence.

Material from other authors is smoothly integrated into text. Quotations are limited to statements that are particularly striking or examples in which the source's precise wording is important.

0 points

7 points

8 points

9 points

10 points



Unacceptable formatting.

Multiple errors in formatting according to assignment instructions and/or APA style guidelines.

Several errors in formatting according to assignment instructions and/or APA style guidelines.

Minimal errors in formatting according to assignment instructions and/or APA style guidelines.

Correct formatting according to assignment instructions and/or APA style guidelines.

0 points

14 points

16 points

18 points

20 points


Total points









For simple writing assignments that do not require formal source documentation, the following rubric may be used:



Performance Indicators








Unacceptable content

Insufficient content covered and/or unsupported by credible sources/materials

Content somewhat covered and/or somewhat supported by credible sources/materials Content mostly covered and/or mostly supported by credible sources/materials Content covered thoroughly and well supported by credible sources/materials

0 points

35 points

40 points

45 points

50 points

Writing Form


Unacceptable writing

Multiple sentence structure issues and writing errors

Several sentence structure issues and writing errors

Minimal sentence structure issues and writing errors

Clear, well structured written communication void of writing errors

0 points

21 points

24 points

27 points

30 points



Unacceptable formatting

Multiple errors in formatting according to assignment instructions

Several errors in formatting according to assignment instructions


Minimal errors in formatting according to assignment instructions

Correct formatting according to assignment instructions

0 points

14 points

16 points

18 points

20 points


Total points








Created and maintained by Vicky V. Johnson